We went to the Island Sunday, our fourth trip back since the temporary causeway was opened to residents. Each trip we recognize restoration to our Island community; there is less debris piled as high along the road and in some places the shared use path is clear and accessible.
The drive to our condo complex was clear of chest high debris consisting of broken remains of cottages from along the Gulf, cars, a van, mattress, all manner of furniture, appliances, and two enormous propane gas tanks. Yesterday was the first time since we evacuated on September 27, 2022 we were able to park our vehicle in a parking space in front of our building. The mulch-like matter that frosted our staircases like dirty icing made from crumbled roofing and sandy-silt has been mostly cleared away by the crews of workers that perform these tasks during the week. We were amazed not to have to scramble over waist high nail infested broken wood siding with our puncture-proof boots. It seemed child’s play to walk from our car to our condo without the hazards.
But hazards are still plentiful; the blackened remains of our downstairs neighbor’s condo where 8’-12’ storm surge whipped through their condos, tossing refrigerators, stoves and even full-size washing machines and dryers like dice. Our upstairs neighbors’ condo living room where now the insulation and roof lays on top of her sofa, chairs, coffee tables. A condo we stayed in while our new air-conditioning system was installed in July of this year. We watched the film Jaws over our dinner while the contractors completed our air conditioner instillation. These reflections remind us how very, very quickly life can change.
Our condo is unlivable and yet even in those portions that appear undamaged to our eyes we are very aware that what we don’t see can be the point of entry for evil black mold and its spores. We enter cautiously and set about salvaging what we can from our home; those little insignificant items like my black eraser for colored paper that cost a whopping .75 cents I am tickled to bag, and a pair of drug store readers. The two mattresses that were saturated by the deluge from the collapsed ceiling we haul out, along with my large sheets of Italian Fabriano Tiziano charcoal paper some blank and waiting and some with full sized pastel and pencil drawings soggy to the touch and stained from pink insulation. Yes, I feel the chafe of the loss, but then I temper my emotions to our downstairs neighbor’s devastating loss, his condo is blackened and broken, nearly unrecognizable.
Everyone we know has been transformed by this epic natural disaster. We have had to become warriors soldering on through unimaginable disaster. The sights haunt my sleep like the silver aluminum sheathing quite possibly from a broken cottage roof wrapped around a palm tree like a colossal turkey drumstick from a giant’s barbeque.
What was once familiar is disorienting enough that new signs have had to be installed in front of businesses and neighborhoods as they are so very unrecognizable. We have all entered a cosmic Salvador Dali dreamscape, and yet even in this horrible topsy-turvy landscape are little vignettes of ethereal normalcy. The wildlife that were the icons of Sanibel are even more revered; for while humans have the means to rebuild their homes the habitat of gopher tortoise and snowy egrets is far more fragile.
Fragile; life on a barrier island is fragile. Our lives, the wildlife we share the Island with are all fragile. Hurricane Ian is considered the most deadly hurricane in Florida history; for now. There will of course be other storms and while individuals debate the consequences of global warming, we and I mean each and every resident including endangered species of animals, we are all living that reality that some only witness on their television.